The Power of Food

Lorenzo here with another post. For those of you just tuning in, I’m an MPH student at the University of Washington (UW) currently in Gondar, Ethiopia. I’m here until December 2019 as one of two SCOPE fellows working with University of Gondar (UoG) staff on two maternal and child health projects, FLAME and LAUNCH.

I’m going to be honest with you all – I’ve been having some struggles lately… with food. Not the type of struggles where I’m overwhelmed with a variety of delicious choices – I’m talking about the struggles of not being able to eat without getting an upset stomach. Yes, Ethiopian food is wonderful, but it also wrecks my gut!

We saw our friend Nati drinking lewz shai (peanut tea) once after a post-hike breakfast. Since then, it has been a lunch favorite for Tess and me. Imagine a peanut-butter flavored, sweet, creamy, hot beverage. Unfortunately, it also destroys my intestines.

This has been one of the driving forces that have led me to seek various ingredients. Luckily enough, our friend Nati showed me a street market area literally 5 minutes from our guesthouse – what a find! I also came on a Saturday, which is the best time to come to get some fresh produce.

Grocery run: cabbage, garlic, ginger, rosemary, tomatoes, onions, eggs…

Equipped with these new ingredients, I gave my poor belly respite from shiro and injera. Cooking up these non-Ethiopian dishes at home not only satisfied my physical hunger, but it also allowed for a creative outlet to break the boredom of some weekends.

Pasta carbonara (sans cheese), pasta marinara (from fresh tomatoes!), and… stir fry (with homemade teriyaki). Yum!

But beyond that, food has power as the ultimate connector. Unlike grocery shopping back home where we have Amazon Fresh and self-checkout lines in the name of convenience and efficiency, here grocery shopping makes us go out of the house and interact with human beings – people whom you might never interact with otherwise

At the risk of this turning into a food blog, I also want to point out the power of food as fuel to do hard, meaningful work. For a few weeks now we have been constructing the building blocks of the LAUNCH study. These include numerous Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) documents, an intervention training manual, and data collection tools. Working as a team makes things slower, but we build off of each other through multiple email exchanges, hundreds of comments on word documents, and the weekly Skype calls, ensuring the materials are the best possible versions of themselves before they are utilized.

My experience with SCOPE has been a huge contrast with my prior research work in Addis Ababa 2 years ago, where I mostly worked independently. I’m thankful for my SCOPE teammates, both the UW study team and the people here on the UoG study team, for redefining what collaboration in the field of global health means for me. Speaking of teammates, the newest addition to the family, Sewnet, hopped on board last week as the UoG SCOPE fellow! Stay tuned for a blog post about her work.

(left to right) Simegnew and Adino (UoG staff) working hard on finalizing the FLAME data set, Tess (UW SCOPE fellow) working hard on editing the 55-page LAUNCH training manual, and me working hard on taking photos. Just kidding, I was taking a break from working hard on the LAUNCH Recruitment SOP.

Lastly, food not only connect you with people in the present, but it can ground you to your roots. With the diarrhea showing no signs of stopping, I decided to make congee, or rice porridge, the other night. This dish not only soothes a tummy in turmoil quite well, but also brings back fond childhood memories of Filipino home cooking.

Congee, or as we say in Tagalog, lugaw, is basically a bowl of overcooked, soggy rice. But after you throw in a few flavors – it will whisk you away to the comforts of home.
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